Stereotypes regarding Asians in the United States have been present since Asian immigrants first came to the country. Some of the worst treatment of Asian Americans in the United States occurred during World War II with the creation of Japanese internment camps as a supposed response to Pearl Harbor. After an executive order, anyone of Japanese descent living in the United States was forced into isolation camps.
The recent combination of economic and political tensions with the outbreak of the coronavirus has resurfaced racism against Asian Americans.
According to CNN, there have been more than 6,000 cases of coronavirus reported in China. Many Chinese citizens are currently on lockdown in cities and more highly populated areas. The virus has also spread to people outside of China, with close to 100 cases confirmed.
Countries including the United States are evacuating their citizens from the Wuhan region and are doing thorough testing upon arrival of all evacuation flights into the United States. There have only been five total confirmed cases of coronavirus within the United States and zero deaths due to the virus.
In response to the virus, Chinese authorities have placed citizens on lockdowns. Although it is important for airlines to cancel flights in and out of Wuhan and for governments to take appropriate public health action, precautions have erupted into fear.
Public fear is a huge drive behind xenophobia. As fear spreads, people become more susceptible to racist stereotypes and hatred. These defensive thoughts and behaviors can become toxic when they target a specific demographic.
You can scroll through Twitter right now and see thousands of racist comments directed toward Chinese people. Comments can be seen on social media about Asian cultural eating habits or spreading misinformation about coronavirus and how people become infected.
According to the New York Times, as #CoronavirusOutbreak tops Twitter’s trending topics, sensationalized videos of East Asian people eating live rats, bats and frogs populate social media feeds alongside images of long lines and conflict in Chinese hospitals.
The challenging reality is that we must safeguard the public around the world without harboring racial stigma. Since the beginning of the spread of coronavirus, many Asians in different countries have experienced racist behaviors from others, including their fellow citizens, such as businesses turning down Asian customers.
Shock value and chasing shares and likes is insensitive to the seriousness of the spread of this virus, and it is inciting racism toward a specific demographic unjustifiably. Those living in China are most heavily affected by this health crisis. The spread of misinformation is also dangerous as the virus spreads because it will hinder advances of country-wide efforts, such as the CDC putting out information, to contain coronavirus and calm public fears.
There have only been less than 10 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the United States, yet many people are harboring fear toward Asian Americans. This reaction to coronavirus mimics the reaction to the 2003 outbreak of the SARS virus. After reported SARS cases were found in the United States, many Chinese Americans reported that they were targets of racist abuse.
This outbreak is an important opportunity to address American culture and racism toward Asians through looking at prior events and responses involving Asian Americans. Fearing anyone who is Chinese and making racist comments is doing nothing but hurting efforts to address infection and public fear. Making assumptions and targeting a certain race is not going to alleviate the panic surrounding the virus or cure it.
By MELANIE RAIBLE
Featured photo from CNN.